I’ve been watching the Flint, Michigan poisoned water story with horror, subdued rage, and disgust. It’s a textbook example of two of America’s biggest social problems: class politics and the indifference of the privileged.
It sickens me.
I was raised in a poverty-stricken area (southeast Kentucky) that relied on King Coal to put money in the region. This gave the coal companies unrestricted freedom (relatively speaking) to do what they needed to dig the seams from the hills. This created quite a bit of environmental havoc.
Water was an issue for my family. It often ran out and it often stank. Before the big city of Manchester (population of approximately 2,000) managed to run city water to Big Creek, we shared a well with several other families. I always thought it a neat thing, the electric pump covered by cinder blocks and a small roof. It used a specialized form of salt for filtration. Many times I helped my dad fill the basin for the filtration materials.
Wells will go low due to overuse, so that wasn’t anything unusual. It was that the physical characteristics of the water…were troubling. It often smelled foul, sometimes smelling differently on different days. One day, it would reek of rotten eggs. The next, a nauseating chemical odor. Most of the time, it had a Kool-Aid orange tint. You could see floating particles in the water that looked like little blobs.
Fortunately, we knew better than to drink the stuff. But we did use the water for showers, for washing clothes, brushing our teeth, and washing dishes.
All through grade school and high school, my clothes had an orange tint. At least my clothes matched my hair!
Nobody thought we had a naturally foul well. Most of the neighbors blamed it on the strip mining.
Of course, the coal companies had zero concern about our water (or anybody else’s water). They dug coal and sucked the area of its resources until they poisoned the water, the land, and its people. The area suffered due to the same reasons as the citizens of Flint: class politics and indifference of the privileged.
It is my sincere hope that those in charge of the Flint water failures get their due punishment. Considering we’re all just big sacks of water, the right to an expectation of safe and clean water should be automatic.
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